Philly’s Church of the Savior seeks to raze historic buildings ‘to save the cathedral’

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The Philadelphia Historical Commission will meet Friday to decide whether to allow the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia to destroy two historically recognized buildings it owns, and build a 25-story apartment, office, and retail complex in their place, in order to finance cathedral repairs and expand its ministry.


The dean of the cathedral says the cathedral’s survival depends on this plan. Preservationists counter that the cathedral’s interests in this case do not in any way trump the public interest.

From the Philadelphia Daily News:

The cathedral on South 38th Street, known as the Church of the Saviour until it was named the cathedral in 1991, was built in 1855 and redesigned in 1889 by noted ecclesiastical architect Charles M. Burns. After a devastating fire, Burns redesigned it again in 1902. Burns also designed the two three-story brownstones on Chestnut Street that the cathedral wants to knock down. The houses, fashioned to complement the brownstone cathedral, serve as its rectory and parish house.

All three properties are on the National Register of Historic Places and were placed on the local register in 1981.

A decade ago, the dean of the cathedral, the Rev. Richard Giles, with the backing of Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., renovated the cathedral interior – widely considered the finest intact Victorian interior in the region – by obliterating elaborate murals by Edwin Blashfield, and removing sculpture, furniture, and pews. The actions shocked many preservationists and parishioners alike.

Now the cathedral is back with another proposal that seeks to alter its own historic fabric, and this time, the proposal has substantial policy implications, preservationists say.

“It represents a grave danger of widening the interpretation of the [preservation] ordinance,” Gallery said. “It opens the opportunity for other owners of multiple historic properties to make the claim that demolition of one should be allowed in order to preserve another.”

The dean of the cathedral, Judith Sullivan, and David Yeager, head of Radnor Property Group, the cathedral’s private partner, say that is exactly what they want to do.

“We are petitioning for demolition of the buildings,” Sullivan said during a recent interview.

“In order to save the cathedral,” Yeager said, completing her thought.

“In order to save the cathedral,” Sullivan affirmed.

Read the whole story here.

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Guest

Lois,

Thanks very much for your comments. I agree. All our affluence -- and yes, we are wildly affluent by the standards of many in this world -- if we cannot serve those in need. If our only purpose is to support beautiful but aged buildings used for a few hours a week, I say let them go. We will be better off without these costly assets. Let's embrace change and welcome a new beginning.

Eric Bonetti

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Lois Keen
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Lois Keen

Barbara Snyder, there was indeed a peep about the Cathedral Church of Saint John in Delaware, at least by me. It was my home parish. My husband was a chorister there. We met there. We were married there. I was ordained priest there and served my curacy there. And we were there last month at the service celebrating the cathedral's decades of service.

And, my peep included the note that the Cathedral in Delaware closed, in part because they lived the gospel, serving the poor, and the poor can't pledge enough to support big honking building plants. Unfortunately for the Cathedral in Delaware, they had nothing to sell but themselves. At least the cathedral in Philadelphia does have property to sell. Meanwhile, shame on those churches who are holding onto their endowments while those whose main population are the poor are closing because of lack of financial support.

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Peter Pearson
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Peter Pearson

Hello all! I just returned a few minutes ago from an ordination at the building(s) in question. First of all, I don't know about the facades but those buildings are not user friendly for the purposes for which they are needed to serve. Maybe the facades are pretty but the rest of the two row houses are quite unremarkable and certainly not designed with any of our present day needs in mind (too many stairs, poor insulation, bad electrical, etc.).

As for the cathedral itself, a woman remarked to me after the liturgy that she loved the sense of actually being a part of the worship instead of an observer. Wasn't that the whole point of that renovation of the interior of the church? If so, I'd say it works well. Obviously there are many views on liturgy but if we are aiming at full and active participation, this moves us into the right direction. Besides how many wonderful examples of fine Victorian churches do we need in the 21st century?

Now to get this other project done. Best wishes to the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

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Roger Mortimer
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Roger Mortimer

I know today that the paintings have been covered; yesterday I assumed that they had been destroyed.

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Donald Schell
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Roger,

I don't think the new link is working either. May I offer this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_iconoclasm

This is an account of how the term we use was coined in church debates over theology and practice and includes some interesting recent scholarship re-examining what prompted it.

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